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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Arrangements for Piano Duet Vol. 6
Overture, Scherzo and Finale, Op 52 (arr. C. and R. Schumann for piano 4 hands) [19:33]
Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op 54 (arr. A. Horn for piano 4 hands) [32.14]
Die Braut von Messina (The Bride of Messina), Op 100: Overture (arr. H. Enke for piano 4 hands and revised by R. Schumann) [8:31]
Eckerle Piano Duo
rec. August 2019, Konzerthaus Karlsruhe, Germany (concerto) & Hans-Rosbaud-Studio des SWR, Baden-Baden, Germany
First recordings
NAXOS 8.572882 [60:26]

As I mentioned in my previous reviews of both Volume 4 and Volume 5, I have been following this series and was looking forward to the sixth volume, as I was rather interested to know what would be on them. Now, I have the answer.

First, comes another joint-effort between Clara and Robert, who both worked on an arrangement of Robert’s Overture, Scherzo and Finale, I’ve long enjoyed this piece in its orchestral guise, so I was intrigued to hear what that arrangement was like and I was impressed right from the outset. Robert’s initially sombre opening transfers well to the pianos, the skittish theme that follows bounces around nicely and the lack of orchestra is more than made up for in the varied piano writing. The change from orchestra to four hands points up some fascinating solutions, especially at about 4’10’’, where there is a passage which wouldn’t have worked at all if the notes had just been rewritten for the piano, but the pianistic solution here is completely different and works excellently. I love the cheerful atmosphere in this piece- it’s infectiously enthusiastic. The following Scherzo, which includes lots of Schumann’s characteristically off-kilter rhythms, emerges clearly in this guise and is very well judged and played. The trio has some lovely, almost bell-like effects which sound rather different from the orchestral version and these are most interesting. The bouncy main tune reappears and leads to a pleasing variation and then rushes headlong to a surprising, relatively quiet conclusion to this short movement. The Finale, also with some strange rhythms, fares just as well as the other two movements; it’s another cheerful utterance and works marvellously in this arrangement. Here, the textures are divided between the pianists and the music remains very true to the original. The middle section which slowly returns the listener to the opening theme is perfectly judged and the Schumann’s solutions to the unpianistic textures in the orchestral version are here superbly realised. The ending with the references to the opening is wonderful, bouncy and fun. Both performers clearly relish this piece and it is imbued with much jollity but also some well-judged moments in the more restrained, slower music. This movement is fractionally slower than most orchestral versions I’ve heard but does not suffer in comparison.

Next follows August Horn’s duet arrangement of Schumann’s famous piano concerto. I had heard of Horn before, on a very old CD which included his piano duet version of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger overture, written in cooperation with Liszt’s pupil, Carl Tausig. It isn’t clear from the notes if the soloist’s part is divided between the pianists or whether one pianist takes the soloist and the other the orchestral part; however, whatever the case, Horn made a super job of the transcription of the whole concerto. The opening is suitably powerful and heroic and the way the soloist and orchestra are integrated into the medium of four hands here is excellent – some of the more delicate details stand out far better here than in the orchestral version. With playing this good, this is a delight. The movement moves through a series of modifications and cross-references to the main theme as it develops and is passed from one pianist to the other. The overall mood is happy and cheerful, despite the key of A minor. Horn’s solutions to the orchestral textures are very well thought out and there are only one or two tiny areas where you miss the orchestra, usually when the orchestral line is reduced to tremelandos. The closing few minutes are suitably paced and rather exciting as the pianists plunge headlong towards the ending. The following second movement Intermezzo is wonderful; it’s perfectly judged and very atmospheric. The lovely ascending accompaniment works so well that it almost sounds as if it was originally conceived for piano duet. The playing is charming and there is plenty of feeling here. The ending with the quotation from the first movement is very well judged and everyone holds their breath for the Allegro vivace finale. Of the three movements, this for me is the one which works the least well; however, all the details are present and correct. If I have one tiny criticism, perhaps this finale could be a little bit faster but both pianists display splendid virtuosity. As the work progresses, it becomes more difficult, energetic and skittish, with occasional pauses for quiet reflection. There are some lovely details in the “orchestral” accompaniment around 11’30’’ which make for an unexpected surprise. Towards the end, the speed, difficulty and complexity of the work increase and the ending is a mad scrambling dash towards the virtuosic conclusion. As before, the playing is superb and the whole musical argument holds together very well and as with the Overture, Scherzo and Finale, the timing of this work is similar to the orchestral versions that I’ve heard.

The final track is the overture to Schumann’s Op 100, Die Braut von Messina – a concert overture based on a play by Schiller and here arranged by Heinrich Enke. This is a powerful work, again with plenty for the pianists to do. It opens with a commanding flourish before settling down to some lovely music that grows organically from the opening minute. This evolves as the work progresses – several themes recur throughout the work but there isn’t really a main one, the piece just develops as it goes along, presumably following the outline of the original play (of which I know absolutely nothing). It is a very evocative and interesting piece, filled with plenty of contrast and difficulties for both pianists and certainly packs a lot into its short duration. It is perfectly played here with plenty of clever writing and thought-provoking music.

This is a very well recorded CD with very detailed cover notes which provide lots more information on all of the works on the disc. Both pianists obviously very much enjoy working together and the speed in all the works is about the same as you would expect for the orchestral versions, which I always think is a good sign in such arrangements. I’m as thoroughly pleased with this disc as I was with volumes 4 and 5 and I look forward to volume 7 which sadly promises to be the last disc in this set.

Jonathan Welsh



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